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How to Wear Red Lipstick

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Lipstick step by step
Veronique Beranger/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Red lipstick is a universal classic and has yet to go out of style. Yet many women assume they can't wear it. They're wrong. The secret to the right red is in finding the right shade for your skin tone and not going overboard with the rest of your makeup.

Here are my rules for wearing red lipstick.

The secret lies in the rest of your face

The paler the skin, the bigger the pop. If you're going the red lips route, you're going to have to stay light on the rest of your makeup or risk looking like a clown. Cameron Diaz made this fatal mistake years ago at the 2007 Golden Globes. Skip eyeliner and go only for mascara (black for brunettes, brown for blondes and redheads), making sure to apply to bottom lashes, which will open up your eyes. Dust face with powder and cheeks with a soft blush.

Line inside of lips

Red lipstick tends to bleed, so fill in lips with lip liner first, suggests makeup artist Ashunta Sheriff in Harper's Bazaar.

Pick the right shade

There are all sorts of confusing rules regarding choosing the right shade for your skin tone. The magazine are always suggesting tips such as "A real red with a tiny bit of blue in it suits most people." But how in the world can you tell if a red color has a tiny bit of blue in it? Then there's the advice that if your complexion is pink, you'll look better in plum shades, while girls with yellow tones are flattered by warmer reds that have a brown base, according to celebrity makeup artist Jemma Kidd in Harper's. Huh? My suggestion is to try a bunch of shades and pick the one that looks best on you, period. A gorgeous color on almost everyone is MAC's "Blaze" pictured here.

Don't let nails clash

No need to go matchy-matchy with red nails and red lips. It's just a bit too vampy. I prefer non-red nail polish when you're going red on the lips. A clear polish or light color is cool, and dark polish is a trend that shows no sign of going away anytime soon. If you want to go red on the nails, make sure the color matches your lips.

Blending is in

Few makeup artists stick to one shade of any lipstick, they tend to blend a few to create the perfect colors. If you've bought a red lipstick shade that's too bright, dark or whatever, don't throw it away. Instead, experiment with other lipstick shades you have on hand to create the perfect shade of red.

Check out pages and pages of red lipstick from high-end brands like Chanel to the good-but-cheaper brands such as Revlon and Cover Girl (I am partial to M.A.C.).

Choose lighter shades if you are older

Our lips thin as we age and dark lips can accentuate them. To keep lips from looking too severe, try a rosy red or avoid red lips altogether and opt for a neutral shade, playing up your eyes instead.

Fill in lips with lip liner

To keep lipstick in place, fill in lips first with a lip liner or lip primer.

If you want to your red lips to last a long, long, time, try this trick the women on The View tried (and it worked): take a water-based red marker and dot it over your top and bottom lips. Then apply your favorite red lipstick over this. The stain will last a long time. I learned this from Kym Douglas, author of the new book, "The Black Book of Hollywood Beauty Secrets." It's all about the bizarre (yet surprisingly simple) things celebrities and models do to look gorgeous. (Yes, you can buy it. Do so here, at a discount).

How to tell if you're wearing the right shade of red

Most people look good in red lipstick, but the key is in choosing the right shade (See a picture of Cameron Diaz looking like a clown in the wrong shade of red). When choosing a shade, be sure to step outside in the light and ask the opinion of someone you trust, like a friend or a good salesperson. If you already own the red, you can tamp down the color by blending it in with another shade of lipstick.

Blonde hair looks incredible paired with red lips

There's something about red lips and blonde hair that's just an incredible color combination. For example, January Jones on Mad Men looks incredible in red lips -- she really does resemble Grace Kelly -- yet when she wears nude lips on the red carpet she looks rather plain. Sienna Miller looks AMAZING in red lips.

A few years ago, I tried an experiment where I wore red lipstick every day for a couple weeks to see what happened. The results were pretty amazing: I noticed more people taking notice of me on busy NYC sidewalks, salespeople complimented me on my shade of red (a now-discontinued MAC color) and how it looked fabulous with my blonde hair and fair skin. I loved the way I walked taller and prouder.

So go for it, try out red lipstick and see what compliments you get.

More on lips:

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